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Netflix, Amazon Envision a Reality without Reality TV

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Netflix, Amazon Envision a Reality without Reality TV

Content Chief Ted Sarandos says unscripted programming hasn’t performed on VOD.

Both viewers and content have been steadily shifting from linear pay-TV to on-demand streaming services, such as those from Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and HBO. But as the entire TV experience moves online, Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos warns that reality TV might not make the trip. While speaking to investors, Sarandos explained that non-scripted content, aka “reality TV,” has been a poor performer for Netflix, citing the “disposable nature” and “short shelf life” as the reasoning for this. While Netflix has produced several scripted hits in house, Sarandon’s comments suggest that reality TV’s days are numbered.

This jibes with recent news from Amazon, which will be dropping several reality shows from its lineup. Viacom’s “Teen Mom” and “Mob Wives” were cut, due to “viewer fatigue” with the shows, as Amazon put it. The online retail giant also ended a deal with A&E which had also previously offered a plethora of unscripted content. With many analysts predicting that all TV will eventually be on-demand, as viewing shifts to the web, will reality TV struggle to find the large audiences that it often enjoys in the linear format. Perhaps so, given their exclusion from two of the largest VOD libraries in Netflix and Amazon.

Fatigue with reality programming is not a new phenomenon. Since a surge in popularity in the early 2000s, just about every reality program on the air has eventually outstayed its welcome. Once a hit, “American Idol” will be ending after its 15th season, amid sinking ratings. Another program synonymous with reality TV, “Survivor” is going on 30 seasons since it first hit US airwaves in 2000, and has experienced a similar ratings decline. It’s not uncommon for these types of series to go on for a dozen or more seasons, though they almost never return to their early peaks. Whether this approach is sustainable in a post-cable landscape remains to be seen.

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Kevin Speedy

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